27 Oct Professor Les Iversen, Tightrope Walker and Unsung Hero of Cannabis Law Reform

Leslie Iversen, born October 31 1937, died July 30 2020

Daily Telegraph obituary ‘Leslie Iversen, pioneering neuroscientist who studied the effects of drugs on the brain’

I’m sad that the latter years of Les Iversen’s life have been skipped over in this obituary. As with so many scientists who have had some influence in the political field, he had to tread a tightrope between scientific evidence and the ignorance, bigotry, prejudice of those in politics who are far more concerned with tabloid headlines than facts.

His chairmanship of the ACMD was conducted with great skill and enormous patience as politicians took decisions which were diametrically opposed to evidence. If Les had had his way, the medicinal benefits of cannabis would have been acknowledged far sooner and his knowledge would have cut through the vested interests of senior clinicians which are currently stalling progress on uptake of this most valuable medicine.

Les was appointed chair of ACMD following the disgraceful sacking of David Nutt who had the temerity to tell government the facts about relative drug harms. Les was less of an abrasive character than David Nutt although their professional opinions on government drugs policy were closely aligned. He continued to speak truth to power and, as he told me many times, was completely frustrated by politicians’ attitude to cannabis and their preference for the Daily Mail’s guidance on drugs policy rather than science.

From 2010, as the campaign for cannabis law reform became far more professional and began to attract support from more and more backbench MPs, it was immensely valuable to have someone who was strong and certain in advising ministers of the facts, even if they chose not to act on them. He must take a huge amount of credit for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in 2018. He was immensely skilful at remaining in post in order to provide the best advice while actually telling ministers that their polices were foolish. He has never received the recognition for this that he is due.

Today’s ACMD is supine in comparison, crippled by legislation which has effectively castrated it and turned it into a committee that will confirm whatever the Home Secretary of the day requires. Scientists and clinicians, more than ever, are controlled by the big businesses and fat cats who want to determine drugs policy based on self-interest and prejudice rather than science. Les was one of the last of the noble breed of scientists who told the truth without fear or an overriding concern for his bank balance.